UK’s oldest synagogue fears for future if office blocks approved

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UK’s oldest synagogue fears for future if office blocks approved

Bevis Marks, in the City of London, says its survival is at stake if planners approve two office blocks which could leave them in total darkness.

A ceremony at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, at Bevis Marks Synagogue, London in 2015

(C) Blake Ezra Photography 2015.
A ceremony at the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation, at Bevis Marks Synagogue, London in 2015 (C) Blake Ezra Photography 2015.

Britain’s oldest synagogue fears an “existential threat” to its future if proposals to build two high-rise office blocks nearby are approved.

Bevis Marks, a Grade 1-listed building in the City of London, celebrates 320 years of regular services on Saturday, but its rabbi Shalom Morris says its future is at stake if nearby towers of up to 48 storeys are given the go-ahead.

Developers are proposing a 21-storey building in Creechurch Lane and a 48-floor tower in Bury Street, which the synagogue says would completely block out sunlight apart from one hour a day, making services impossible.

The synagogue is famous for being lit by up to 240 candles. These were supplemented in 1928 by limited electric lighting, which cannot be enhanced because the synagogue is a listed building.

“While each new development on its own is unacceptable, all of them together would be catastrophic. The very survival of our great synagogue as a place of worship is at stake,” said Rabbi Morris.

He added: “Not only will light be blocked, on which the building depends for ambiance, spirituality, and atmosphere, but the very foundations will be at risk. 

“Yet the Jewish community’s British heritage is treated by the planners and developers as just another building.”

A decision on the planning applications is expected to be made on 5 October. 

The synagogue was built in 1701 after Jews banished from England in 1290 were allowed back by Oliver Cromwell, and has survived the Blitz and IRA bombs. It is known as the home of the UK’s Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community.

But those involved in the synagogue fear it could soon be the end, criticising the City of London’s planning approach.

“Due to the pandemic, there’s already unfortunately a surplus of office space in the City so it doesn’t need another tower block,” said synagogue chair, Jonathan Solomons.

Former Lord Mayor of London, Sir Michael Bear. added that while he generally supported modern office buildings in the Square Mile, Bevis Marks had been neglected by planners.

“This is a total disregard for one of the only surviving examples of an intact Wren style City place of worship with original interior,” he said.

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